Tessa Clawson is a painting student at SCAD Atlanta. Her stories reimagine fairytales weaving in themes of trauma, intimacy, and yearning.
A Stranger Comes to Tea
Deep in the forest sat a cozy little cabin. In that cozy little cabin lived a lovely little woman. She lived in this cabin alone. Every day she worked in her garden, tending to her flowers and vegetables. There was every kind of flower one could imagine. Her favorite ones were scorpion grasses, or as she called them, forget-me-nots. Each morning this lovely little woman rose with the sun and began her day. She worked best with her hands and loved to make books. Smoothing out the paper and sewing the spine together brought a calmness to her. Each Sunday, she gathered her least favorite books she made and headed out to town to sell them. She wasn’t the best book maker, but with the money she earned, she was given freedom to buy what she needed.
This lovely little woman was content on her own–she lived alone, worked alone, and strolled about town alone. No one seemed too interested in her, and she liked it that way. Coming home Sunday evenings, she began prepping for the rest of the week: labeling jars of jams, sweeping the floors of the house, and stopping to have a small tea break. The woman was always keeping herself busy. She had a special ritual each night before bed. There was a little vanity next to her bed, and she would sit on a tiny blue tasseled stool brushing her soft brown hair. It was the color of sweet chestnuts; it made the green in her eyes pop. She braided her hair into two plaits and rinsed her face in a bowl. Dabbing at her skin, she stared deeply into her own eyes. The lids fluttered a bit and closed entirely.
She sat there thinking of everything all at once. She kept herself busy to stop the rush of voices in her head. When she was still, it never ended. These thoughts ate at her all through the night. When she laid in bed, staring at the ceiling, she questioned if she was truly happy being alone. She was too afraid to answer. The days ended and new ones began, a pattern she was familiar with.
That morning, she felt a bit cheerier. It was supposed to be a warm day with pleasant weather, a day meant to be spent in the garden. The woman stretches with a grin, eager to make some breakfast. Rolling out of bed, she continued out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. The lighting was soft and bathed the room in a muted stillness. All was still in the kitchen but the shadow casted from the widow. There were steady blots of gray moving from the top of the shadow to the end. The woman approached the window and stared in disbelief. There was snow falling. It was falling quite gently and looked like flower petals in the wind.
It never snows this late in the spring, the woman thought to herself.
Her day was disrupted, the garden cannot be tended to in this weather. I suppose I could just work on my books instead, thought the woman.
She was a little uncomfortable having to adjust her day, but there wasn’t anything else she felt like doing. She went away from the window, releasing the curtain and blocking the view of snowfall. She filled a kettle with cold water and placed it on the stove. A steady tic tic tic, then click! The stove came to life with a low orange flame. The woman sat at the small kitchen table, perched on an even smaller stool. She waited as the water in the kettle began to boil. She combed her fingers through the ends of her plaits and twisted each section between her fingers. A quiet tapping sound caused the woman to drop her braid and steady herself on the stool. The tapping sound came again, and she soon realized someone was at the door.
Unfit to see guests, the woman was displeased that this person felt the need to bother her so early in the morning. She felt it best to ignore them. Besides, her tea water was almost ready. She liked it best when it burned her lips a little. The tapping persisted and the woman grew annoyed at the sound.
Why is this morning so difficult? I just need it to go a little more predictably?
She made her way to the front door, unhooking the latch and swinging the door inwards. A man greeted her rather shyly. He stumbled on his words, but managed to say he was lost in the snow and that he called himself Torrance.
The woman slowly blinked and brought him into the house.
After all, he at least could use a cup of tea to warm up, then make his way to town.
He sat with his back against the kitchen window and drank slowly from a daffodil painted cup. The woman went about her breakfast, making two of everything. They sat at the table together. Torrance sat on the stool and the woman leaned over the table to eat. They didn’t say too much and each time their eyes met, they glanced away. The woman introduced herself as Eden, a name she was given by a special friend long ago. They smiled at each other and continued to eat. The morning, although much different than Eden had planned, turned out to be rather lovely when there was someone to pass the time with.
She cleaned what was left of breakfast and offered the sofa to her guest. She built a fire to get the chill out of the room. Torrance sat and picked up a book lying on the table next to him. He thumbed through it a bit. Once Eden returned with her hands full of wood and paper, he offered his help. The fire gave a warm glow to the room, their faces glowed even more as they looked at one another.
Eden couldn’t help but notice how beautiful Torrance was. He had shoulder length mousy-brown hair that glistened in the firelight. His eyes were a soft gray, and there was a speckling of faint freckles on his nose. He was quiet and polite, keeping to himself. He didn’t seem like he wanted to trouble Eden much longer, but he also didn’t want to leave.
Eden left him in the living room to work on her book making. There was a shed tucked next to the garden. That was where she worked. With her hair tucked behind her ear, she focused her thoughts on smoothing out paper and sewing spines. Eden found herself daydreaming, and when a thought circled back to Torrance, she pricked her finger with the bookbinding needle. In bewilderment she stared at her splotched fingers and stepped out of her shed.
I forgot he was still in the living room.
Eden rushed through the green garden, wet with mud and grass stains. She rounded the corner of her hallway and was surprised to see that there was no one. The living room looked untouched for many hours; the fire was glowing a dark orange, almost out. It was strange. Eden felt that someone came to her house earlier this morning.
Maybe the snow is playing tricks on me.
But even the snowfall has since melted away.
A bit startled, Eden unlaced her boots and placed them by the door. She busied herself with cleaning the fireplace out. The embers started to cool down, and she hoped the weather holded for tomorrow. Eden relaced her boots to take the ash bucket out and dump it next to her shed. The bucket clanked when she dropped it opposite of the ash pile. She went back to her house, rubbing her temples, trying to make sense of it all. The kettle was filled again. This time, the stove lit on the first click. Eden stared out the kitchen window, gripping onto the sill. As the tea kettle whistled and the water sloshed into her cup, the sound of footsteps alerted Eden. She spun around and there was Torrance.
“Where did you go?” Eden held her breath, waiting for him to answer.
“What do you mean? I have always been here,” Torrance’s eyes were soft. They looked into Eden’s. Eden didn’t like this answer but was too flustered to ask him anymore. She was just happy he was here.
“Would you like me to make you something to eat? I didn’t realize how long I was in the shed. I lost track of time–”
“Why don’t I do it, you look a little uneasy.” Torrance took Eden’s hand and sat her on the tiny stool.
Staring into her tea, Eden asked herself if she’s okay. There was a stranger in her house, cooking for her.
How malicious could he really be if he’s making me something to eat? He helped me earlier with the fire. He could have been somewhere else in the house when I walked in and did not see him.
They sat together on the sofa; Torrance wanted them to both be able to sit at the same time. They ate with their food on their laps, laughing and making small talk. Torrance was still too shy for Eden’s liking, but he seemed to be warming up to her. She took his plate, their hands touching for just a second. She blushed as she walked to the kitchen. It was then she realized he was going to leave as soon as the day darkened. The plates clanked into the sink. Eden gripped her fork, her knuckles white. Torrance was suddenly there, holding her hand. The fork dropped into the sink.
“You must be more careful. I don’t want you to get hurt.” Torrance looked at her and continued, “Why don’t you come back to the living room. We can clean this later; it isn’t important now.”
“Oh, I suppose we can. I apologize, I am usually not like this.”
They walked out, Eden held onto Torrance’s hand. He smiled at her, his lips curled delicately over his teeth. Torrance took Eden into the bedroom and left her there. She sat at the edge, staring at the hardwood floor. Her toes curled on the rug, realizing how lonely she really was.
Torrance was here, but she didn’t know him. She trusted him and even felt like she had known him for a while. The day was confusing, and she was frustrated that she made herself a fool in front of him. Eden rolled onto her knees and took blankets out from under her bed. They smelled faintly of dust, but they were the only extras she had.
Opening her bedroom door, Eden blindly made her way with a handful of blankets to Torrance. She stumbled through the hallway, stubbing her toes on the jagged strips of wood. The blankets were carefully unfolded onto the sofa. She tried her best at making it look as comfortable as possible. The kitchen was cleaned and all the dishes were put away. Eden didn’t bother checking if they were put away properly; she was too busy looking for Torrance.
I don’t understand how I lose track of him so often.
She made her way back around the kitchen and into the hallway and could see Torrance adjusting his blankets on the sofa. Eden smiled and her pace quickened into the living room. Torrance greeted her with a smile.
He looks tired.
“I hope this will be comfortable for the night. I am sorry I don’t have anywhere else to put you.” Eden glanced at her foot, and darted back up into his eyes.
“Oh, it’s just perfect. Thank you Eden.”
Eden made her way back to her room, peeling the quilt back and slumping into the left side of the bed. There was no nighttime ritual, Eden forgot.
The early morning light woke Eden, it was yellow and warm. She smiled because that meant she could go into her garden. She rushes out of the bed, throwing the quilt to the side, and changed into a cotton dress. This one was her gardening dress because she made multiple pockets to hold her tools or vegetables. She brushed her hair at the vanity and took out a straw hat. Placing it on her head, she smiled revealing a slight gap between her front teeth. She spun around and went to greet Torrance. The blankets on the sofa were neatly folded. Eden walked around to the kitchen and found him staring out the window, the small dandelion painted cup in his hand. He seemed lost in thought. Eden cleared her throat; Torrance turned and offered her a cup of tea. She accepted it, and they stared out the window together.
“I thought maybe we could have our meal outside, the weather is nice,” Torrance looked at Eden for approval.
“Why not?” Eden smiled back.
“Wonderful, I have already prepared it.” Torrance took Eden’s arm, and they walked to the front door. She unlatched it as he grabbed the basket next to her boots. They made their way across Eden’s garden and sat under a plum tree. Torrance sat against the trunk in the shade, Eden’s back faced the house. She was amazed at how well he could cook. She couldn’t remember the last time she ate that well. They spent the morning in silence, eating under the plum tree. The sun shone through the branches and illuminated Torrance’s eyes. He squinted, shading his eyes with a hand. Eden decided it was time to go back into the house. She needed to have enough time to spend tending the vegetables. Torrance followed and took the basket into the kitchen and gestured to Eden that she could go. Reluctant to leave him out of her sight, she politely insisted that he had already done too much as a guest.
“Why don’t you go into town and find some direction as to where you were heading? The roads will be clear, maybe a little muddy.” Torrance’s gaze shifted away from Eden as she said this to him.
“I don’t need to leave yet. I like spending my time here with you.”
“Well, I suppose you can stay here while I am outside again. I don’t mind you staying a bit longer… Tell me when you are ready to leave.” Eden hesitated with the last part–she doesn’t like leaving him alone.
“Of course, I won’t leave without saying goodbye,” Torrance smiled with a flash of teeth. He made his way into the living room, and Eden saw him helping himself to a book. Satisfied, she left to spend time in the garden.
Eden snipped and clipped various beans and leafy greens, and she plucked out potatoes. She carefully placed them deep into her pockets and gathered more, working quickly because she wanted to get back to Torrance. She dusted the dirt from her knees and placed her scissors on a hook on the side of her shed. With pockets full, she stumbled her way inside, startling Torrance a bit.
He’s where I left him.
Torrance offered his help, but she declined, much too proud of herself. Emptying the contents of her pockets into the sink, Eden worked on washing the vegetables off and thinking of something elaborate to make. She was content with the idea of a savory pie: a potato pie, something simple and hearty.
The potatoes were diced and boiled in a large pot. Eden rolled out a dough onto the kitchen table and cut it into two squares. She prepared the potatoes with some spices and other vegetables. She plops a hefty amount into each square, sealing the edges with a fork.
The kitchen had a thin film of flour on every surface. The oven was hot, and she placed the pies inside. Torrance was still reading on the sofa when Eden came in. Eden placed herself next to Torrance rather boldly.
Torrance looked up from his book and smiled, “How was the garden? Were you inspired to make something for us?”
Eden blushed and nodded her head.
“That’s wonderful.” Torrance tucked his hand into Eden’s. She rested her head on the sofa and watched him read.
Later in the evening, they enjoyed those pies. Eden wasn’t too sure if they were really as good as Torrance said they were, or if he was just being polite. They cleaned the kitchen together and retired back to the sofa. This time, Eden brought a book and they curled up on the sofa, hand-in-hand.
As the day grew later, Eden dreaded that Torrance was going to leave. However, he made no indication of leaving. Her hand tightened around his and he looked up.
“What is troubling you?” Torrance’s eyes casted down at Eden, his brows knit in concern.
“I don’t want you to go.” The statement surprised Eden. She hadn’t meant to fully admit that to herself.
“I hadn’t planned to leave just yet. I told you I would let you know and at least say goodbye. I haven’t said my goodbyes yet, have I?” Torrance leaned in and kissed Eden’s forehead.
She was surprised but felt calm to have him so near. He smelled sweet, like a flower she couldn’t quite name. His lips were soft. She closed her eyes and lay her head on his shoulder. They sat there for some time, their fingers laced in each other’s hair.
Eden opened her eyes and grabbed Torrance’s book, setting it off to the side. She reached out with her hand and cupped his chin. Leaning in, she softly planted a kiss on his lips. Torrance slipped his hand behind the small of her back and pulled Eden closer. They embraced in an entanglement of arms and legs.
Torrance is steady and gentle. Eden couldn’t help herself but to caress his stomach, kissing each spot her fingers brushed against. Eden shifted her dress and came closer to Torrance, her fingers lost in his hair, his hot breath in her ear. A giggle escaped her lips. She couldn’t help but smile as Torrance leaned her back. A single tear fell from her face.
She led him to her bedroom, and they laid together face to face, Torrance stroking Eden’s cheek. With sleepy eyes, Eden mumbled a goodnight and nestled her head into his shoulder. She didn’t hear his response; she was asleep.
A light washed over Eden and she rose with the sun. Yawning and stretching, Eden’s hand searched for Torrance. Her hand felt something delicate and twig-like. Picking it up, Eden inspected it, turning over the flower in her fingers. It was a forget-me-not covered in ashes. Eden searched Torrance’s side of the bed, her hands an ashy mess. He wasn’t there.
He never was.